Going green is generally a good thing. After six tournaments on clay, producing four victories and six defeats, including a main-draw elimination at the French Open, Félix Auger-Aliassime is back on form. On grass, the results looked a lot brighter. The final tally was 10 wins and three defeats in three competitions. His first matches on grass saw him reach the final in Stuttgart. The eighth of his career already, at just 20 years old. The only problem is, it was also his eighth defeat. This time against Marin Čilić and, once again, without managing to win a single set. But did he let it get him down? No. Although obviously disappointed, the Canadian – used to looking on the bright side – found a positive in it.
“Yes, in some finals I didn’t play my best tennis,” he admitted afterwards. “But this time, I felt I was close. He just was better than me for the whole match.” The following week, on 16 June, he enjoyed one of the best days of his career – one he is unlikely ever to forget. In the second round of the ATP 500 in Halle, he defeated Roger Federer, his first victory against one of the Big 3, although without letting it go to his head, considering that his childhood hero is no longer at the top of his game following a double operation on his right knee, as well as being almost 40 now.
“I had to dig deep physically and mentally”
He also notched up his 12th semi-final on the main circuit while he was at it. He lost after a nerve-racking 6/4 3/6 7/6, over 2 hours and 34 minutes, against the future winner of the tournament, Ugo Humbert, at the end of a worthy duel between two opponents whose game works perfectly on grass. Hitting forehand as well as backhand, at ease addressing the ball early, his feet firmly planted on the baseline, with a formidable serve, easily bending his legs to lower his centre of gravity on a surface that particularly demands it – FAA has everything it takes to give them a run for their money. Following some final adjustments at a doubles final in Halle, playing alongside Hubert Hurkacz, he approached Wimbledon with confidence.
On the London courts, the Canadian – who has grown used to developing at an impressive rate since he made his debut – reaped the rewards of his efforts, reaching the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. “It’s a big milestone for me in my young career,” he told reporters after his victory over Alexander Zverev, his fifth against a top 10 player, in the round of 16. “It’s my favourite tournament. Also the way it happened, makes it even sweeter. This match really had everything. I had to dig deep physically and mentally.” This is because, despite taking the upper hand, the ghosts of the Australia Open returned to haunt Court no. 1.
Having taken the first two sets, he lost the next two to one of his pet hates, which he had never previously managed to overcome in three encounters. For the second time in his life, he had to play five sets, raising the spectre of a repeat of the nightmare scenario at Melbourne’s Round of 16 – where he lost 3/6 1/6 6/3 6/3 6/4 to Aslan Karatsev. “Yeah, I mean, I thought about it for sure a little bit,” he admitted. “But I didn't want it to happen again, it would have been tough to accept.” Drawing on his inner ghostbuster, he finally managed to chase away the ectoplasms of the past to avoid a sleepless night, winning 6/4 7/6 3/6 3/6 6/4 in 4 hours and 2 minutes – 37 minutes longer than his match against Karatsev. But this time he was physically able to go the extra distance.
“I was courageous, audacious”
“I felt better physically today than I did at the Aussie Open,” he explained. “Against Karatsev, I really couldn't move much at the end. I was really struggling physically.” In a better place physically and mentally against Zverev, he was quick to move forward towards the end. “I was just trying to play my best, be courageous, be audacious, go for my shots, try things.” Perhaps, too, thanks to Toni Nadal’s input on handling big moments and the famous “winning mindset”. Although beaten in four sets by Matteo Berrettini in the next round, he made a brave face of it to reporters. Despite the disappointment of being knocked out, he knew he had reached a milestone.
“It's been a good season on grass, definitely,” he said after losing to one of his best friends on the circuit. “There are a lot of positives to be taken from this tournament.” As well as the mental and physical milestones of getting into his first Grand Slam quarter-final thanks to his first five-set victory, he has also collected the points won for the #FAAPointsForChange project. From Stuttgart to Wimbledon via Halle, he won 1,155 encounters – representing another $5,775 to help children in the Kara region in Togo. An amount that BNP Paribas tops up by adding $15 per point won, or $17,325 for this period on grass. So the Educhange programme continues to grow thanks to Félix Auger-Aliassime's green fingers.
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Felix Auger Aliassime